Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 01, 2021
Detective games

Many of the board games I have written about in the last months were dungeon crawlers, or other tactical games in fantasy universes. But my wife and me also played two detective games: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Chronicles of Crime: 1400. Both games are somewhat similar in the general premise and game flow: You start with a description of a crime, then go through a main part of the game in which you follow clues and question witnesses and suspects, until you declare that you have solved the case and you need to answer a series of questions and be scored on your answers.

The interesting difference between the two games is that the Sherlock Holmes games (there is more than one) use numbered paragraphs in a printed booklet for your investigation, while the Chronicles of Crime games (also more than one) use an app combined with QR codes on cards for the investigation.

The Sherlock Holmes gameplay is often more subtle. You read through the numbered section, which might be as much as a full page, and besides the main points of information you might notice some details which hide additional clues. It is really a game about reading comprehension, and an ability to pick up details and subtext. The downside of the system is that the booklet doesn't know how you arrived at a particular paragraph. The paragraph numbers are codes for addresses on the map, and you might learn them through different means, for example from the newspaper or from the address directory. Thus it happens that you go to a location for a specific reason, and the text you read assumes that you went to this address for a completely different reason.

In Chronicles of Crime your questions are more specific. You not simply go to a location and get all the information available from there. Some locations you need to search using a virtual reality viewer and then finding in a deck of cards all the objects you saw. You can also talk to characters about specific objects or other characters, by scanning them. So, to take an example from a better know detective game, if you visit the library, you can find Colonel Mustard there. You scan the library and see the candlestick. Now you can ask Colonel Mustard about the candlestick, or you can ask him about Mrs. White, as long as you have met her or heard about her earlier, and thus have her card to scan. The downside of the system is that the narrative description of everything is much shorter, and much more straightforward, with less attention to detail required, except for the virtual reality scene scan.

A curious thing we noticed about both games is that we don't care much about the scoring system. Both games, in different ways, count the numbers of leads you followed or time you took to solve the crime, and give you a better score if you solve the crime with fewer clues. But we often felt that we had solved the crime, but would rather continue to investigate a bit more, rather than to advance to the final step and solution. The investigation itself is more fun than achieving a higher score for less investigation.

The major disadvantage of both games is that they have zero replayability. The Chronicles of Crime: 1400 game has one tutorial case and 4 full-length cases, while Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective has 10 full-length cases (but is twice the price). The one advantage I see with the Sherlock Holmes game is that you could easily pack just a part of the game (the booklet for one case, plus newspapers, directory and map fits in one large envelope) if you want to play it elsewhere, e.g. on holidays, while with Chronicles of Crime you always need all the cards and a smartphone or tablet. But for people who don't know if detective games are for them, Chronicles of Crime: 1400 is an easier and cheaper entry level game.


For now Sherlock Holmes is my favorite, but as a point of entry, I think Pocket Detective series is the best. The games are crazy cheap and compact, offer full-fledged detective experience (rather than escape room-style puzzles) and some reactivity to player choices (I wouldn't say they are non-linear, but they aren't as static as Holmes.).
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